Labyrinthitis 

Introduction 

Labyrinthitis: Rebecca's story

Rebecca has labyrinthitis, an inner ear infection. In this video, she describes how it affected her balance and perception, and where she found help.

Media last reviewed: 02/10/2013

Next review due: 02/10/2015

Dizziness

What you should do if you feel dizzy for no apparent reason, and common causes

Labyrinthitis is an inner ear infection. It causes a delicate structure deep inside your ear called the labyrinth to become inflamed, affecting your hearing and balance.

Symptoms of labyrinthitis include:

The symptoms may be quite severe in the first week but usually get better after a few weeks. However, some cases can have much longer-lasting symptoms. This can have a major impact on a person's quality of life and their ability to do everyday tasks.

The labyrinth

The labyrinth is the innermost part of the ear. It contains two important parts:

  • the cochlea – this relays sounds to the brain and is responsible for hearing
  • the vestibular system – a complex set of fluid-filled channels responsible for your sense of balance

Inflammation of the labyrinth can disrupt both your hearing and sense of balance, triggering the symptoms of labyrinthitis.

The labyrinth usually becomes inflamed either because of:

  • a viral infection, such as a cold or flu
  • a bacterial infection, which is much less common

Read more about the causes of labyrinthitis.

Treating labyrinthitis

In most cases, the symptoms of labyrinthitis pass within a few weeks. Treatment for labyrinthitis involves a combination of bed rest and medication to help you cope better with the symptoms. In some cases you may need additional medication to fight the underlying infection.

A small number of people have persistent symptoms that last for several months, or possibly years.

These people will require a more intensive type of treatment called vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT). This treatment attempts to "retrain" the brain to cope with the altered signals that come from the vestibular system.

Who gets labyrinthitis?

Most cases of viral labyrinthitis occur in adults aged 30 to 60 years old.

Viral labyrinthitis is thought to be a relatively common ear condition among adults. Other types of ear infections are usually more widespread in children.

One study found that around one in six people who visited their GP with symptoms of vertigo had labyrinthitis.

Bacterial labyrinthitis is much less common. Younger children under two years old are more vulnerable to developing bacterial labyrinthitis.

Bacterial labyrinthitis carries a higher risk of causing permanent hearing loss. It's estimated that one in three cases of acquired hearing loss are caused by bacterial labyrinthitis. Read more about complications of labyrinthitis.

Page last reviewed: 25/02/2013

Next review due: 25/02/2015

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Comments

The 22 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Merv94 said on 13 June 2014

I went to the doctors when I started to get slight momentary dizziness and was prescribed betahistine tablets which did very little to help. Explaining my symptoms to the doctor was the most difficult part for me as they didn't seem to concur with what most people said about their experiences of vertigo. I never experienced severe dizziness or the feeling of nausea, but more frequent very short-lived instances of dizziness, but equally unpleasant. This was also accompanied by a feeling of fullness in one ear. Following a CT scan my doctor diagnosed me with a form of Labyrinthitis and recommended I carry out excercises such as the Brandt -Daroff technique as well as Semont, as there was no medication or conventional treatment he could recommend. I have now had the symptoms for almost 4 months and as yet, there has been very little improvement although I continue to carry them out the excercises as often as possible. On a positive note I have recently returned from holiday and experienced no real problems flying, in fact my problem ear seemed completely unaffected by it. If anyone else has similar problems and have found a way of coping better or improving their condition, would appreciate them sharing their experiences.

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Shells50 said on 09 May 2014

I started getting symptoms of imbalance and dizziness about four weeks ago after I came back from holiday.

For me, it's not the room that's moving, it's that I feel half drunk and unstable all the time. It's worse when I'm working at my computer as I feel dizzy and nauseous and keep getting headaches, and I have to get up and move around a bit. When I lean forwards at my desk the dizziness and feelings of being spaced out and nauseous get worse. I feel that there's something moving backwards and forwards in my head and I have the sensation of being pulled forwards. Confined spaces are worse than open spaces. I feel so much better walking in the garden than I do in buildings, where I seem to get dizzy and disorientated.

As yet it has been undiagnosed, despite seeing a Dr last week, but when I discovered the website set up by two Labyrinthitis sufferers (labyrinthitis.org.uk) it was like a Eureka moment! They described the type of symptoms I was experiencing in a way that the medical websites just don't do, such as the pendulum sensation in my head and the feeling of being pulled forwards. I can really recommend this website as it's really put my mind at rest that there's nothing more sinister going on. It also contains some very useful information about getting the right treatment.

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Mary1211 said on 07 May 2014

So i started getting dizzy spells, headaches and nasuea about 1 and a half weeks ago. i put it down to going out on a night out and drinking way too much. after about a week, i thought something more serious must be wrong, went to the docs and got told i have this problem. I have been given 'betahistine dihydrochloride' and told 1, three times a day. i have only had them a day but my syptoms are still the same if not worse, so i will give it a little longer then i think i will have to go back. I feel completely shocking. I work in a busy shop at the customer service desk and deal with customers face to face and on the phone all day! I have severe ear ache with it, which makes it worse when talking to customers, and i generally feel like sleeping all day! Has anyone got any ideas of things that could help apart from taking these tablets??? I fly to america in one month and dont want to feel like this when i go! Is ther anything special i need to do when flying now i have been told i have this problem? tablets/ear plugs etc?

thanks

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trurojoe said on 04 February 2014

Hi everyone,

I've just had labyrinthitis for 6 weeks and sympathise with anyone who's got it - really not fun. It also doesn't help that GPs are reluctant to give you any useful guidance for managing the condition, probably because they don't have time.

But as I work in health, I managed to get some good advice from other colleagues, so let me share a few practical tips that I picked up for dealing with it.

1. Most important: don't panic. One thing I noticed was that because labyrinthitis is so disorientating, it triggers an immediate panic attack. Try to stay calm - the symptoms of a fast heart rate, dry mouth etc are just your body's adrenaline response. Sit down, wait for the worst of the symptoms to pass and try carry on as usual.

2. Stay cheerful. It's easy to get dragged down into anxiety and low mood - but don't let it beat you. These feelings only make matters worse. Try to think of the dizziness as a healing process, where the brain is trying to recalibrate itself (which is in fact what's happening). Although the dizziness is unpleasant, it's actually helping you, because the brain is making sense of the confusing signals it is receiving from the damaged labyrinth. The more 'normally' you behave, the easier it is for the brain to decode the symptoms, and quicker the symptoms will pass.

3. Check out the Brain and Spine Foundation website and download the vestibular rehabilitation exercises- (http://www.brainandspine.org.uk/vestibular-rehabilitation-exercises). These are brilliant! I did them for about a week and felt loads better (though they do make you feel pretty dizzy at first). They say that you need the advice of a physio, but I didn't bother. Just do them anyway. Start with the easiest ones first and work your way up. I was amazed how effective they were.

Good luck!

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Dennie B said on 27 January 2014

Boy do I sympathize with this lady, I was diagnosed with this condition 4 weeks ago after a a serious bout of diarrhea and sickness. This is probably the most debilitating condition I have ever come across. Going shopping has become a nightmare as I am unable to walk in a straight line and to maintain my balance in a crowd is now almost impossible, just the slightest deviation from track sends me off at a tangent from which I don't recover until I either fall over or some object prevents me from going further - I've even been accused on more than one occasion of being drunk which was funny at first but is now wearing a bit thin. I don't seem to be improving any and my doctor is now virtually at a lose as to what to do, other than to keep giving me sick notes, I'm not stable enough to drive as my vision is also impaired in that I don't seem to be able to pull in my focus and my reaction time has been significantly effected. I just continue to hope that things will improve in the long term and that I get back to normal as quickly as possible - I feel that the world currently see's me as a fraud or an alcoholic, for me I'm not quite sure which is worse!

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VioletOblivia said on 07 December 2013

I started getting dizzy at night around 4 weeks ago and it escalated from there. The doc initially put me on Stemetil but that only worked for a few days so he put me on Cinnarizine instead which also seems to have stopped working. I had been fine all day yesterday and really thought I was over the worst but it came back very badly last night and now I'm back to square one. Looks like I'll be going back to the doc again on Monday. No-one else seems to be worried about me but me as it's what's called an 'invisible illness'. I had no idea dizziness and nausea could cause so many issues. I'm barely functioning. I don't know how long term sufferers cope.

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paulyorkshire said on 08 August 2013

I am a 45 year old male. 5 weeks ago I had a sore throat and within 24 hours it developed in an ear ache. It was very painful and within another day it was weeping pink fluid. The Dr suggested my ear drum had perforated. Another day later and I was vomiting. The Dr prescribed some buccastem to stop the sickness. This seemed to work. I had 2 sets of oral antibiotics (no side effects). It took almost 4 weeks for my ear to "dry". May have been to ciloxan drops. Each day I've been slowly getting less dizzy but still can't go in a car or walk very far. I have tried epley manoeuvre it may help others. Look it up on YouTube. Try to keep positive. I think more people suffer than we realise.

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campogirl said on 08 April 2013

A couple of years ago, I started feeling very dizzy one day at work, with slight nausea when I moved my head up and down. I stopped at an NHS emergency clinic on the way home from work. The on duty doctor diagnosed it as Benign Positional Vertigo. He explained that it was probably a small piece of material that had come loose in my ear and was pressing on the nerves that tell the brain which way up we are. He gave me tablets to reduce the nausea and an exercise sheet involving rotating the head to help. This was aimed at moving the particle away from the nerve. After about a week the symptoms slowly went.

A few days ago it came back. It now includes turning my head from left to right when laying down, in addition to up and down when I am sitting or standing. It is so frustrating and has taken me several days to stop moving in ways that exacerbate the kiddiness. I don't know if the tablets helped last time but I will have to go to the doctor again if it does not clear, as I did not keep the exercise sheet.

There are many different reasons, and different lengths of time for these symptoms but if you are diagnosed with Benign Positional Vertigo, I would definitely advise you to use the exercises.

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CBGK said on 24 March 2013

Help.I went in for my routine annual visit to my local ENT dept to have ear wax removal by microcuction.Been having it for years with no problems.Last week my annual appt..An ENT Doctor did the suction which was a lot more painful than ever experienced.During the procedure I went partially deaf and told him so,he said your ears are clear no problem withe eardrums and it will be ok.I went home got severe tinnitus for the evening and night as if drums were banging in my head.I was partially deaf in one ear.Went to bed got up and phoned the Consultants secretary explaining my problem.She made a call and told me to go back as an emergency which I did.Another ENT Doctor looked at my ear and said "oh you still have some earwax left"(not what the doctor said the day before.She then proceeded to suction the rest of the wax and for the first time in my life in the middle of of the procedure I got severe vertigo and asked her to stop.I couldnt move.She then said I had a perforated ear drum(not what the doctor saidt he day before.I had a hearing test and was given another appt in a months time.Meanwhile back at home the tinnitus(never had before went) Partial deafness after a week still there.Mild Labyrynthitis feeling dizzy/tired/depressed as I have never experienced this before.What have they done to me.I went in with no problems and came out with plenty.Any suggestions.I have made an appt to see my local trusted GP but doubt he can do anything.I am so disappointed, Help

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kubu1970 said on 06 March 2013

Im currently on week 12 of this dizzy nightmare. I woke up in the middle of the night to the room spinning and was told by my GP that I had BPPV. Ive since been told by a different GP that my problem could also by labrynthitis. Ive not had a spinning attack for a while, touch wood, but have an almost constant off balance feeling that is causing me great anxiety. Ive been referred to ENT but have to wait for my appointment. Ive not worked for 3 months and feel so unbelievably miserable and quite ill at times. My GP is now totally disinterested and wont even help me with my anxiety problems until Ive seen the ENT which I feel is quite cruel as I am genuinely suffering. No one really seems much interested in this condition. Its very isolating. Ive been told that it will not take my life and its self limiting so basically just get on with things until it sorts itself out. Well in my opinion and Im sure Im not alone it has 'taken my life' because Im certainly not the person I was before.


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T0G said on 14 January 2013

I suffered from extreme dizziness and saw my GP. he wanted to send me to see a consultant but the symptoms tailed off after about a week and before I could get an appointment. Now just under a year later and I've gone through exactly the same thing. It's frustrating not knowing the cause but , at the same time, I'm glad that the symptoms don't last much more than a week.

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selclare said on 28 November 2012

I was diagnosed with labyrinthitis 11 months ago when i went to the doctors with symptoms of hearing loss in one ear, 2 tone tinnitus (1 pulsing in time with my heartbeat), hearing things like babies crying louder than they are (as if 2 babies are crying in sync rather than 1) and dizzy spells. I was prescribed anti-sickness pills but told not to take them unless i felt sick. Didn't go away, so went back to the doctors 2 months later & was sent to an ear/nose/throat specialist who did a hearing test which came back fine, so he declared me fine. Had an MRI too which came back clear.
It's now changed a bit. I now get a huge dizzy spell once a month. I know it's going to happen cuz my ear feels fuller when i wake up that morning & my tinnitus is louder. Tinnitus is always there but ive got use to it now so hardly notice it unless im specifically thinking about it. Still can't hear much out of my 1 ear & go even more deaf when i go dizzy. Only thing that stops my big dizzy spell is going to sleep. I don't have a balance problem until this dizzy spell occurs. It tends to happen near my time of the month, when coincidentally i eat more chocolate & drink more tea/coffee (caffiene overload).
Still being told it's labyrinthitis. I'm not convinced. So many things have the same symptoms but although i reckon my symptoms did once match labyrinthitis, i think they now more closely match menieres. I'm not a doctor though...unfortunately.

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astra395 said on 29 June 2012

2 weeks ago (at work) i became very dizzy, I almost fell over and felt very strange and wobbly for a few days. I was going on holiday so could have complete rest for a week and seem to be fine. Came back from hols, started to open the post and all of a sudden the dizziness came back. I have a brain tumour (the 2nd one in 6 years) so my immediate thought was this the start of the symptoms relating to this. Went to GP who said he didn't think it was that causing the problem as the tumour is very small (i do hope he is right!) but said he thought it was labyrinthitis and gave me some betahistine tabs, which have helped a little. I feel very nervy, shaky and feel as though things are 'moving' and my focus isn't good. I can't drive, as i am scared i will have a bad dizzy turn. I intend to see the GP in a few weeks, hopefully i will feel better but if not I think i will have to ask to see an ENT specialist to confirm the problem. I never felt this could be so crippling.

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solver said on 28 April 2012

My dr recently diagnosed this condition after I had suffered a week of extreme distress. I was prescribed betahistamin; this helped a little. I have put oil (olive) in my ear for three days and will ask for wax removal soon. I also then put some antiseptic in my ear several times over two days. I will try anything recommended for relief. Today for the first time in a week I am able to look at this screen without feeling nauseus. And to type in this comment. I am drinking water with honey rather then milky coffee. Rubbish? As long as I continue to feel better I will try any remedy tried by others with even a little improvement. Best wish to all sufferers. Please let me know if you have found relief with anything.

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ronnieb said on 01 October 2011

I found that the tablets given to me did little, so as a believer in chiropractioners, I saw mine. In the practise that I attend, one of the practioners specialises in vertigo problems. 3 or more sessions were needed at the worse times but the differance that it makes is wonderful. I phone the minute I think an attack has started and usually get an appt that day or maybe a day later. I cannot praise this enough, should you doubt it my doctor tells me that she does the same thing that they would do (if they had the time). Yes it costs, but relief is great, and after all we m.o.t our cars so why not pay for our bodies! It is about balancing your ear up again (a simplified explanation) thats what the chiro does.

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GeraldineIOW said on 14 September 2011

I had severe vertigo which was diagnosed by my GP as Labrynthitis. After 3 weeks when it hadn't gone away I paid to see an ENT consultant who immediately diagnosed Benign Positional Vertigo. This is when a piece of debris floats into the inner ear fluid and disrupts messages to the brain. He performed a simple head rotation to get the debris to float back out and within a day I was back to normal. If your symptoms persist, insist on seeing an ENT consultant.

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deb3029 said on 13 September 2011

now 7 weeks since iv had this and still no help iv been refered to ent and am told have i to wait 17 weeks this is a joke i havent been out now in all these weeks and am expected to cope with 3 children for another 17 weeks feeling like this nhs is terriable and am going private.

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deb3029 said on 04 September 2011

iv had this condition for 5 weeks now and its affected my everyday life cant go out and i feel very isolated,i feel like iv had no support at all from my doctors its wait another week and being ignored basically by them.iv never had problems with this before and its very scary am a single mum of 3 kids so resting in bed just isnt a thing i can do i still have to cook clean and do everything i use to do which means iv fallen several times and burned myself on the cooker on occasions because of the vertigo,i hardly eat as feel sick constantly and have vomited on bad days as i call them,some days seem better than others i think am on the road to recovery only to take 2 steps back again,pain killers and medication for the vertigo dont seem to help at all iv never been offered to see ent or or been offered the chance to see someone who can help,the total lack of support from my doctors is shocking and iv been left to cope alone which is the worst thing of all.

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Juliuss said on 23 March 2011

Had Labyrinthitis for 7 weeks now, first two in bed then back to work with mild dizzyiess issues but getting better every day till last week when problem seems to have moved from left ear to right ear and now getting worse again, so now both ears effected. There doesnt seem to be a cure for this just time, pills dont work as I dont have severe nausea just dizzy spells when getting up froma seat or moving my head too quickly. Seems worst at night when shifting positions. I have an ENT specialist appointment soon but dont know if this will help.
I'll update progress here just in case anyone follows this note..

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lily123 said on 27 November 2010

Can you explain why this can be caused on a flight please? I don't understand why I got quite extreme pain in my inner ear when the plane took off, and over the next week i lost my balance and had all the symptoms described in the video and sort of sleeping attacks, and it got worse and worse, luckily it went away.
But I never want to go on a plane again unless I know a way of making sure it doesn't happen.

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Oliver123 said on 17 March 2010

Hello,

I have had practically the exact same as this lady in the video. Things moving, cant sleep, balance awful, cant sit in a bath or have a shower for a long time, bad balance, cant sit for long periods. I have had labyrinthitis for 2 years now, when it builds up and it bad, i cant walk for 2weeks. in and out of bed, really annoying and getting to me.

I am seeing a neurologist and getting VRT. I'm also getting an MRI scan. I really hope this helps as the hospital said i did have labyrinthitis but it has left damage to my central nervous system. So, getting physio and exercises to do regulary, which i really hope helps me as i am fed up with it now. It has really ruined everything i do as before i was an active, young teenager.

If anyone could give me hints/tips, that would be great. share their story etc.

Thanks.

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addolorata said on 23 February 2010

Where can I obtain a video or leaflet to learn those excercises for labrinthitus please?

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